Allen Iverson's return to Philadelphia feels like the same situation we witnessed in Memphis, only with a longer fuse.
Iverson returns to the city he considers his professional home, the site of his greatest successes and triumphs. He figures to get a couple of months of big minutes, courtesy of current Sixers point guard Lou Williams' jaw surgery and recovery time.
And then what?
When the Sixers are treading water in February and Iverson finds himself sharing minutes with players he believes inferior and being paid far more handsomely, does he zip his pie hole, take what coach Eddie Jordan gives him and play out the season as the dutiful teammate?
Are you kidding? This is Allen Iverson we're talking about.
He does not defer. He does not suffer in silence.
The qualities that make him — and we say this with all due respect and affection — one of the damnedest players in
history simply do not lend themselves to a supplicant role.
Iverson's predictably disastrous marriage with the
lasted a few months and only three regular-season games.
There, he was expected to sell tickets for a miserably attended franchise and play some sort of mentor role for the Grizzlies' young players, particularly in the backcourt.
The Sixers' decision to bring back Iverson doesn't have nearly the sideshow feel that the Memphis arrangement had, though you never discount the impact of moving turnstiles and putting fannies in the seats in professional sports.
This is by no means a ceremonial signing, a la
returning to San Francisco so that he could retire a 49er.
Sixers president and general manager Ed Stefanski referred to the Iverson signing as a basketball decision. After Williams had his jaw wired shut and was shelved for up to eight weeks, the team needed a guard.
Iverson, Stefanski said, was the best available fill-in. He knows the franchise, he knows the town, he can still ball. And the price is right.
Iverson has a one-year, non-guaranteed contract that calls for him to make the league minimum. Pro-rated, that means he will earn almost $650,000 — pocket change in the NBA, especially in light of the fact that the Sixers are getting a Hall of Fame player and career 27-points-per-game scorer.
The "non-guaranteed" clause is the most interesting part of the deal. The Sixers reportedly can cut him until Jan. 10, after which they owe him the full amount, regardless of how the season unfolds.
The fact that Iverson agreed to the deal tells you that his hobbies and diversions aren't yet fully formed.
Stefanski talked Wednesday about how the Sixers have been competitive, despite their record. They want to play faster under Jordan, in his first year as the Sixers' coach after a stint with the
, and to be more effective in the fourth quarter.
Stefanski said he thinks that Iverson can help in both areas. We'll see.
Iverson, even at 34, is still a defensive matchup headache for many opponents. But he also monopolizes the ball, which means he can be corralled. He hasn't gotten any taller or quicker or become a more effective defender, either.
He wouldn't have been available to the Sixers, or to the Grizzlies before them, for that matter, if he were the total package.
That gets to the rub against Iverson. No one ever questioned the man's ability or his heart. Rightly or wrongly, however, his public snits and intractable image make it easier for basketball people to focus on his shortcomings, rather than his strengths — particularly as he ages and his gifts erode.
People forget that Iverson precipitated his departure from Philly when he demanded a trade in 2006. He publicly chafed at coming off of the bench and playing limited minutes in both Detroit and Memphis.
After settling with the Grizzlies, he sat home wondering if his career was really over. The Sixers threw him a lifeline, out of need more than anything else.
Iverson's return to the league, and the Sixers, will be fine in the short term. And by short term, we mean weeks, rather than months.
Beyond that, an unrelenting competitor, provocative media and unlikely prospects for success look an awful lot like a pack of matches in the gunpowder factory.
Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at
. For more from Fairbank, read his column at dailypress.com/fromthetarpit.